I can trace my origins down to the village, hamlet and even the hut in which my forbears lived. My hamlet is called agbole-aiyekoto, which means the Parrot’s Compound, and if you read on you will find out why.
The last time I went to my roots, the old folks began to recite our family praise-poetry the moment they spotted me; and they didn’t stop until my eyes were teary from a swelled head. After a heavy meal of boiled cassava and steamed vegetables, I took a seat under the cashew tree and listened to the oldest family member recount how our hamlet name was derived. The story is quite pertinent for you and me today even though it happened in the era of my great-great-great grandfather. Of course, I can’t put a date to it but since members of my family tend to live long (Grandma just passed on at 99 years old), you can be sure it was a very long time ago.
There was this man who was stinking rich and was held in high regard by everyone, even the village-king, because of the power he wielded. It was the period when aso-oke (hand-woven cotton) was the fabric in vogue. For years, the only available dyes were brown and a dull grey but this man had the dye for making red aso-oke. His was so unique and special that it was the envy of everyone; and kings and nobles came from afar to buy what they called the ‘red-gold’. The man could command exorbitant prices for his goods because no one else possessed the secret formula and our village became the mecca for all merchants and weavers. Furthermore, it made him an arrogant foe whose friendship everyone diligently sought out.
Over the years, several attempts were made to discover his secret to no avail. Diviners were consulted and it was a field day for them as they milked every seeker that came to them. And the many alchemists that sprung up were banned from practicing when two major fires resulted from their crude experiments. There was even an attempt to compromise his wife, but unfortunately it back-fired. The mystery-seekers paid his wife, in a repeat performance of the Samson-Delilah saga. The woman refused to perform her wifely duties in the bedroom unless he told her the secret of the red-dye. In unprecedented rage, he stormed out of the house and after a short while he returned with another woman. It was the oldest daughter of their neighbour whose parents had just married off to him the moment he parted with dowry of a bulging bag of cowries. Expectedly, he kicked out the old wife!
When none of their antics worked, someone suggested that he must be making the secret concoction at night because the man insisted on sleeping alone. That was when the nocturnal break-ins began. But all the teams that went at different hours of the night all came with the same report: They found a snoring man who woke up startled to the sight of strangers in his bedroom. Interestingly, my great3-grandfather had another idea; he believed that his secret was tied to the man’s sleep but in a more subtle way than others thought. His wife always spoke in her sleep and during her soliloquy she relived the experiences of the past day and so he proposed that the man slept alone to keep anyone from listening in on his soliloquies and learning his secret.
He therefore bought a parrot which he trained to repeat the sentences it heard from the people around it. After six months of intensive training, he was satisfied with his creation and set out to test its ability. One night, he put his parrot in a cage and took a stroll towards the house of the fabric-maker. When no one was looking, he dropped the cage behind the man’s bedroom window and left as stealthily as he came. The next morning, before the first crow of the rooster, he went to retrieve his parrot. It was with expectant and tingly ears that he greeted the bird but when it opened its beaks all that came out was the prolonged ‘zzzzzz’ of a snore. He was dejected and remained so for the next six months that his parrot continued snoring. One morning when he was almost losing hope, he brought his bird back home and it chirped the words his ears had been dying to hear.
Fast-forward by three months…. The red aso-oke was being made and sold by more people. Our family had grown so rich. My great3-grandfather had broken the man’s monopoly and had normalized the price of the fabric. But, what was fascinating about our village was no longer the ‘red-gold’, it was the Sherlock Holmes of a parrot that people from far and near came to see; hence the hamlet name agbole-aiyekoto.
Today, many people have what is similar to the business secret of the other man. They lose friends and family over it like the man. They guard it with their lives just as he did. But eventually they lose it all. Then, there are some smart businesspersons who have such secrets but they intentionally put it in the public domain for anyone to access. And in the process they make tons of cash from not hoarding it. It brings to mind a Bible saying that, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it but whoever loses his life will keep it”. Let me show you how.
If your business product or service revolves around a new idea or a breakthrough, you need to declassify the secret. If yours is a creative work like a song or a poem, you need to go to the government and declare it and put it up for reproduction under the copyright laws. If it is a new product or invention, you do the same and put it up for reproduction under the patent laws. Everyone and anyone then has access to it but they cannot reproduce it without acknowledging you and paying you for your discovery. If, on the other hand you decide to keep it, I assure you that down the line someone else might discover same, follow my suggestion and make money from it while all you will be left with is your secret and empty wallet.
Let me give a very simple example. If you have read Robert Kiyosaki’s book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, he tendered a theory called the Cash Flow Quadrant and put the trademark symbol ™ next to it. If you use his theory in any book, you have to reference him. Many readers of your book will likely look for his book and buy it; it is at that point he makes money. If you fail to reference him and he sues you for copyright abuse, he will also make some money. But if he chose to keep it to himself, someone may come along some day and give us something similar or better and maybe call it the Earnings Quartile™ and make all the money. It’s funny, don’t you think; but that is the world we live in.
As we close this year on the Let’s Talk Business, I wish to leave you with these words: The best way to have is to give. See you in 2014, God willing. Happy Holidays